If the warden were ever to throw a party in the Mono County jail, having enough space would be good thing. A larger jail facility was one part of a needs assessment presentation to the Mono Board of Supervisors earlier this month by Peter Rich of Kitchell Consulting. King discussed the report for the Mono County Jail, which he said covers all aspects, including the physical structure, current and future capacities and, possibly most important, future construction.
“When you have a building from the ‘80s in that condition, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck,” Rich said. It’s supposed to be a one-stop shop, but the problem is that booking in one person tends to cause everything to stop, because the jail’s layout is somewhat prohibitive, due to having to move persons through public areas. He also said the building needs better networking ability for more efficiency.
The big question, according to Sheriff Rick Scholl, involves where a new facility would go. He recalled that in the early 60s, the County had a north county jail and a south county facility, located at what is now the Substation building. Scholl cited two main problems to having multiple sites. The most obvious is cost. Scholl said 80 percent of bookings come from the Mammoth area, but at $2 million annually just to run the Bridgeport location, it’s tough to reconcile the short-term savings of having a more Mammoth-central jail with longer-term expenditures.
“Costs can be amortized over years, but operational expenses continue to go up,” observed Supervisor Tom Farnetti, whose present concern wasn’t so much with where a new jail would go, but coming up with a plan that addresses those expenses.
Another issue is staff. A south county or even a midway solution is worth looking at, Scholl said, but it would require developing a significantly different duty structure, given that the current jail staff currently resides either in Bridgeport or points north.
A bigger jail, whether new or expanded, will probably end up being essential going forward. Rich predicted a shortfall of 47 beds by 2019 if conditions remain relatively unchanged. Expansion is going to be challenged by a sheer lack of room. Kitchell staff agreed the County needs to have a presence in Bridgeport, but added the current building just doesn’t have any “room to grow.” Increased parking requirements will present another hurdle. “It becomes more of a band-aid than a conscious effort,” Rich said. Relocation, he suggested, may be a better option.
Mammoth Lakes makes sense for an annex, but Rich conceded there is a limited supply of acceptable land. Board Chair Byng Hunt pointed out another problem: perception by Mammoth locals who may be squeamish about having a jail in or near the four square miles that caters to a winter and summer vacation clientele.
Supervisor Hap Hazard also nixed any notion of combining the jail with a new substation in Crowley Lake. “The substation is one thing, but putting a jail in Crowley will mean my ‘retirement’ from the Board,” Hazard quipped.
Kitchell recommended for now taking the current jail back to its former 24-bed, 72-hour configuration, and building a new facility for longer stays (2-3 years). “It’s a great building, and can last a long time if it’s configured efficiently, but if it’s allowed to run at an overage, it’s not going to hold up.”
A new 48-bed facility, perhaps as part of a new justice center complex, would run an estimated $15.7million in Crowley/Mammoth Lakes. Add another $2 million if it’s put in Bridgeport. Finance Director Brian Muir indicated that at least for the present both figures are probably out of reach given the current economic climate, requiring a creative, but grounded approach to financing any new scenario.
Privatization was mentioned, but while some California, communities outsource kitchen and medical services, virtually none have been willing to turn over the majority of the operation to outside, private business vendors.
“We’ve got the reports and the studies; now we’ve reached the time to have the big picture discussions,” Hazard said. One idea mentioned was tearing down the old hospital building putting up a new civic building there, which Hazard said would free up the current building for more inmate space, etc.